When Davo Karnicar reaches the summit of Everest this autumn it will only be a job half done. That is because the Slovenian mountaineer will be climbing to the top of the world only to ski down to base camp: a vertical drop of more than 3.5 km.
His is not the first attempt to ski the Everest slopes. Back in 1970, Japanese climber Yuichiro Miura made history when he took off from near the South Col in a straight run, unfurling a parachute to brake his fall. Nearly a quarter century later, in 1992, Frenchman Pierre Tardivel did even better when he skied from just below the summit. The top 100m of Everest, however, remains untested by skiers and Karnicar is hoping it will not remain so for long.
Karnicar\'s biggest challenge will be negotiating the Hillary Step, a rocky outcrop below the summit. But the supremely fit-looking climber-skier was unfazed when he talked to us a day after his arrival in Kathmandu. "I want to do it at this moment. My life is climbing and skiing. I\'m really good at this," said he, who knows that the slightest miscalculation can send him plunging down the Kangshung face or into the Western Cwm. "I need a clear head on top. I know I can do it. I need to concentrate."
Karnicar\'s Himalayan Expedition headed off for Base Camp earlier this month, and every move he makes on his skis will be broadcast live on the Internet through a satellite hookup www.everest.simobil.si/eng/target.asp.
The Everest effort is the third in an \'extreme skiing trilogy\', which began in April when the 37-year-old skied down the 2,864m Triglav, Slovenia\'s highest mountain, in rather bad snow conditions. Then, on 23 May along with brother Drejc, Karnicar skied down the 4,807m Mont Blanc, the highest peak in the Alps. Karnicar\'s descents from Triglav and Mont Blanc have allowed him to test climbing, skiing and filming gear. But he is aware that Everest poses challenges of a different kind: the vertical drop and the altitude.
Karnicar was a member of the Yugoslav skiing team between 1975-1982. Since he began climbing 20 years ago, he has more than 1,200 alpine climbs and ski descents to his credit, including being the first Slovenian to ski down an iced waterfall. Back home, he is head of the Jezersko Mountaineering and Skiing School and president of the Jezersko Tourist Association
The father of four belongs to a well-known mountaineering family, and says he feels his parents, children, brother, sister and wife, are always with him, cheering him on. "Once we get to Base Camp, 1 need to acclimatise, go up and down the mountain," says the skier. "In the final run from top to bottom, I might have to break between skiing runs because I\'ll need oxygen."
In 1995, Karnicar skied down Annapurna I. The next year he made an attempt to ski the northern side of Everest, but had to give up due to a heavy storm on his way up. He also lost two fingers due to frostbite during that trip. (Also on the mountain at the same time was Italian Hans Kammerlander attempting the same fear. But due to lack of snow on the slopes Kammerlander had to climb down.) Inevitably a lot of people ask Karnicar why do you do it? He has tried to answer the question in his book, Mountaineering, Self-Love, Love. He says: "I want to do something in my life. Not just live in the world for 80 years. Each day I live I must make something of it. Each hour is important."
If Karnicar succeeds, his achievement will add to the lengthening list of Everest firsts:
in 1988 Frenchman Jean-Marc Boivin used para-gliding equipment to jump off from near the top and landed on the Western Cwm in just 11 minutes; an American team ballooned over the summit in 1991; and this spring, Nepal\'s own Appa Sherpa reached the top for the 11th time, just doing his job-seeing his clients safely up and down the mountain- said the modest Sherpa.